Bhubaneswar, July 10 (IANS) The annual Ratha Yatra (chariot procession) of Lord Jagannath, his brother Bhalabhadra and sister Subhadra began at Odisha's beach town of Puri amid tight security Wednesday, officials said.
The ceremonial procession of the deities known as Pahandi - carrying the deities out of the temple to the chariots - started at 9.45 a.m., Laxmidhar Pujapanda, public relations officer of the temple administration, told IANS.
More than 800,000 devotees reached the town, some 55 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar, by 11.30 a.m. Their numbers could swell to more than a million by evening, Pujapanda said.
The festival marks the annual journey of the three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple in three splendidly decorated wooden chariots, pulled by devotees, to the Gundicha temple, around three km away.
The festival ends nine days later when the deities make their way back home to the Jagannath temple. The return journey, known as Bahuda Jatra, will be held July 19.
Devotees from different parts of the country and abroad attend this annual procession to get a glimpse of the deities, which is considered auspicious. The chariots are pulled with ropes by devotees amid chanting of hymns.
The state government has made adequate security arrangements to maintain law and order during the festival. Over 7,000 policemen are deployed across Puri to prevent any untoward incident, Superintendent of Police Anup Kumar Sahoo told IANS.
It is for the first time that the vehicles of VIPs are not being allowed to reach close to the temple. Such vehicles have to be parked at a distance, Sahoo said.
Besides a large number of closed circuit cameras installed at various places, bomb detection and disposal squads and fire tenders have been deployed to meet emergencies, the officer added.